When you wake up on a chilly morning with a ferocious cough, your first instinct may be to raid the medicine cabinet for an elixir that promises solid rest and clear airways. But at what cost?
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Our bodies are designed to fight illnesses like the common cold, but despite having an abundance of natural remedies at our disposal, we still fill up on “chemicals” that can cause even more issues.
Mother Earth Living has tips, based on studies from the University of Maryland and Penn State, to steer you away from artificial cough suppression. Holding in a cough or smothering it with medicine can prevent your body from doing its job — getting the junk out. (By the way, a cold-mist humidifier can help soothe the airway while breaking up mucous.)
Here are five nasty side effects to watch out for in cold medicine. And after learning these five natural alternatives you may decide it’s time to go “cold” turkey.
1. Blood Sugar Spikes
You might as well be drinking Hershey’s syrup, because medicines like Delsym contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose (refined table sugar).
Both sweeteners are chemically treated and quickly absorbed types of sugar that cause rapid blood sugar spikes. The pancreas is forced to kick into overdrive to compensate, which wears out the organ. Every time we consume heavily concentrated forms of sugar, we up our chances of getting Type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance is a second path to diabetes. The presence of excess insulin after eating unnaturally sugary substances causes the body to lose sensitivity to insulin. More of the fat-storage hormone has to be produced to manage blood sugar, then weight gain occurs: It’s a vicious circle. It’s the accumulation of these artificial sweeteners or added sugars that cause issues. They should be avoided at all costs.
Ginger: The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger can speed along the healing process while reducing annoying symptoms. You can chew on small pieces of the root or boil it with lemon to make tea.
While cough medicine alone probably won’t give you cancer, it adds to the deadly combination of unhealthy things we put in our bodies. Lorenzo Cohen of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found through his research that those who eat an excess of sugar, particularly fructose, are more likely to get cancer. Cough medicine contains sucrose, which is comprised of glucose and fructose.
A type of preservative, parabens, are also lurking in cough syrups in the form of methylparabens and propylparabens, which is odd because they are typically found in cosmetics. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics states that these preservatives can cause cancer, reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption when applied to the skin, making it even more concerning that these substances are being consumed. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of parabens.
Licorice: While needing to be used with caution (it can raise blood pressure), licorice can be beneficial for calming scratchiness in the airway while helping loosen phlegm. Use under the supervision of your doctor.
As if a kid with a cold wasn’t enough of a nightmare, HFCS, food coloring and artificial flavors can further add to mood swings and anxiety. While an array of artificial colors add to the hues of cough medicines, you’ll often find Yellow 5 on the ingredients list, which has been directly linked with negative behavior in children.
“These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest quotes their executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
According to Psychology Today, consuming too much sugar can result in depression, anxiety, addiction and learning problems. In short, the stuff that is supposed to calm little ones down during an illness can fuel one killer tantrum.
Peppermint: Menthol is in peppermint and soothes while working as an expectorant, which breaks up congestion so it can be expelled. Menthol already exists in many over-the-counter medications, but it can be used in its natural state without gross side effects.
4. Weight Gain
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in parabens can seriously throw hormones out of whack, causing issues like hypothyroidism, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Hypothyroidism leads to a slower metabolic rate, thus causing extra pounds to pile on. Propylparabens, (found in cough medicine) act as synthetic estrogen and disrupt the endocrine system, according to the Environmental Working Group. This makes them EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals), which are everywhere; so we can at least reduce our intake a bit by kicking cough medicine.
Honey: Children with colds sleep better and cough less when given honey before bed. Its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties do wonders. Do not give honey to children younger than a year old.
5. Tooth Decay
“Tooth decay happens when plaque come into contact with sugar in the mouth, causing acid to attack the teeth,” says MouthHealthy.org.
How many times do you take a swig of medicine then immediately drop your head back to your pillow? That sugar is just sitting on your teeth, and acids are causing decay. MouthHealthy.org goes on to say tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. Perhaps sugary medications are literally feeding this sticky issue.
Tea: All the remedies mentioned can be combined into a variety of teas, which add to the already cough-busting qualities of the toasty beverage. The warm liquid and vapor can loosen mucus while boosting healing. Hydration thins congestion while strengthening the immune system. Specifically, green tea can balance your mouth’s pH, preventing tooth decay.
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